Q: My 15.2hh Thoroughbred mare is turned out in the day and brought in at night. In the winter she suffers from terrible mud fever.
When it gets really bad I bring her in.
Are there any alternative treatments I could try to prevent it from happening?
A: Mud fever is a common condition which occurs predominantly during the winter when the weather is wet and the ground stays damp and when grit and dirt may cause skin damage.
Mud fever is basically a form of dermatitis, which affects the skin around the bulbs of the heel, as well as the fetlock and pastern regions.
All breeds of horse can be affected, but those which have long hair around the fetlock or those with white legs most commonly suffer. The back legs are more often affected than the front.
Symptoms vary in severity, initially starting with inflammation of the skin and underlying tissues at the back of the pastern and heel region. This is caused by infection with Dermatophilus congolensis, the organism responsible for mud fever and rainscald.
As the area swells slightly, the skin stretches, starts to secrete pus which dries and glues the strands of hair together forming hard, scabby lumps and matted, tufted hair.
The scabs can be pulled off leaving areas of moist pink skin, which are often raised and round or oval in shape. Gradually the infection progresses from the bulbs of the heel, creeping round to the fetlock and pastern areas.
As the horse moves, the cracks in the skin may widen, leading to additional discomfort and in the most severe cases, lameness and swelling of the legs.
There can also be other complications, including a secondary bacterial infection from Staphylocci, Streptococci or Corynebacteria. The most severe cases may exhibit a foul odour due to severe secondary infection.
Treatment should start with careful management. Avoid allowing your horse to come into contact with wet, damp or muddy areas and keep her out of the rain as much as possible. Where the horse is stabled, ensure that the bedding is clean and dry.
To treat mud fever, first trim off excessively long feathers to make it easier to clean the area. Do not brush legs while they are wet. Once the legs are dry, gently brush off any mud with a clean brush.
Try to remove any scabby areas using a gentle shampoo. Tea tree shampoo is useful although in very severe cases, a mild surgical scrub may work better.
Potach alum can be used as a one per cent solution to help the skin dry when it’s very weepy. Conventional antibiotic and antifungal creams can be used to help treat the problem with additional antibiotics given by injection or by mouth in very advanced cases.
Natural mud fever treatment
Mud fever also responds well to homoeopathic treatment. There are several useful remedies including:
- Graphites (black lead): one of the main remedies, especially useful where the skin is very weepy and sore
- Malandrinum (grease from a horse’s skin): this remedy is of most use in more severe cases but can be combined with graphites for milder cases
- Petroleum (crude oil from rock): useful where there are severe skin cracks, soreness and thick scabs in the skin
- Thuja (Arbor vitae, the Tree of Life). This is most useful for stubborn cases
Use the remedy which most closely matches the symptoms in the 30c potency and dose once daily until the problem resolves.
There are also a number of other preventative treatments based on natural remedies. The most effective often contain tea tree and lavender. These will not only help to reduce infection but will also act as a useful barrier against dirt and water.